Death of Georgian luge athlete touches all 

FIL representatives in uncharted waters after death of Nodar Kumaritashvili but say Whistler track is safe


By Andrew Mitchell and Alison Taylor

As Whistler's patios began to fill Friday evening and crowds gathered in the village squares for a live broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremonies, one man was on everyone's mind - Nodar Kumaritashvili.

The young Georgian luge athlete died after a horrific crash on the Whistler Sliding Centre track Friday morning during the final training session.

He was 21 years old.

By Friday evening candles, flowers and tributes to Kumaritashvili had been placed at the base of the Olympic rings in Whistler Village. Many people stopped to quietly reflect on the day.

Alex Bryson, who works with the logistics team at the Whistler athletes' village, had checked in the small Georgian team's luggage two day earlier.

"I don't know if I met him or not," said Bryson in Village Square. "It's quite a small team so I may well have done."

Bryson is in Whistler for the season and said the news of Kumaritashvili's death rippled quickly among his friends, particularly those working for the Olympics. It was met with shock and sadness.

"He's 21, I'm 22. He's younger than me, his first Olympics...

"It's a strange one because everyone's excited for the Olympics, they're about to start but at the same time something like this happens. It's a really strange sort of balance."

Also walking through the village Friday afternoon was Paul Kristofic, the manager of the Canadian men's alpine ski team.

"It's shocking," he said. "You don't expect to see something like that ever in that sport. It's a fast sport and I've never actually seen a big accident like that in luge.

"I think the athletes who are close to luge or part of luge are probably feeling it the most, that one of their colleagues has been killed and I think that's awful for them."

The accident was attributed to driver error within 24 hours, but the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre almost immediately faced criticism. Several athletes and officials said they were concerned about the speeds and the safety of the track.

At an emotional Saturday morning press conference in Whistler the president and secretary general of the International Luge Federation (FIL) discussed the events leading to Kumaritashvili's death.

President Josef Fendt, speaking through a translator, called Feb. 12 the "worst day, one of the saddest days in the sport... and that was the worst event that has ever happened," in its almost 60 years in the Winter Games.

Fendt expressed his personal condolences, and then, citing his limitations in English, turned the floor over to secretary general Svein Romstad to discuss the details of Kumaritashvili's death. Romstad, visibly shaken, choked up several times speaking to the media, but explained what had transpired since the accident.

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